Like millions of Americans, I was flabbergasted to see Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell’s call to sit down and shut up Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor Tuesday night. Just as disturbing was the acquiescence of Republican senators to comply with his use of the archaic and little-used Rule 19.
By invoking this procedural ploy, McConnell revealed his fear and anger at the truth of Coretta Scott King’s criticism of new Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he was a U.S. attorney in Alabama and being considered for a federal judgeship in 1986. Astonishingly, when Warren’s male Democratic colleagues later read the exact same words, not one was met with the harsh, humiliating fate inflicted upon her by the Republican Congress.
While women in government have made great strides, McConnell clearly believes that we are still not worthy of the same respect, decorum and civility he extends to our male colleagues.
Women are half of the population and have a critical role to play in the political, social and economic life of our society. Just a few weeks ago, millions of women all over the world marched in support of that principle. Our democracy is dependent on everyone having a voice and having an opportunity to speak.
Women, however, make up only 21 percent of the U.S. Senate, 19.4 percent of the Congress, and 24.8 percent of state legislators.
Because women are a minority in legislative bodies, it is especially important that they have ample and equal opportunity to share their views without interruption, reprimand or intimidation. Women’s presence and leadership ensures that there are different perspectives and approaches considered, which makes a positive difference in policy making.
Silencing the voices of powerful women leaders like Warren sends a message to women everywhere that their voices are not welcome in the larger public discourse. It is especially inappropriate for Senate leadership to quiet a dissenting opinion. Our democracy works best when all of our elected officials have the opportunity to speak up for their constituents in important policy debates.
I hope to one day live in a world where we never hear “the senator will take her seat” in such a discriminatory context again.
That is why I am urging Senate majority leader McConnell to encourage, rather than punish, the women in the Senate for doing their jobs and speaking up for their constituents.
Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Louisville, represents the 44th House District.